Persistence pays off

Sep 11, 2022

Hiring often takes a lot of time and a real commitment to get the key people you want.

Hiring key people still seems to be top of mind for everyone I talk to in the AEC business. But like anything else worth doing, it often takes time and a real commitment to get the people you want. Persistence pays off.

I experienced that firsthand early in my professional career. When I joined Carter & Burgess in their headquarters in Fort Worth back in 1985, it was the result of a recruitment process that had started 10 months earlier. Russell Laird, who had joined Carter & Burgess in their Houston office in 1983 or 1984, formerly worked for an AEC firm called 3D International. 3D International was a consulting client of mine going back to late 1980. They were best known for their high rise design work for clients in the Middle East. Russell was a senior vice president there in charge of engineering. That’s where he and I became acquainted with each other and became friends.

I had left the firm I worked for in St. Louis and moved to Memphis in 1983, when I went to work for a company that at that time was called, Pickering Wooten Smith & Weiss (today it’s known just as the Pickering Firm after a name change in 1984). They, too, were a client of mine at my former firm, and I had been recruited to work there as director of project development and human resources for Memphis and Little Rock by one of their named partners, Irving Weiss, who was at that time their COO.

About four months after I landed at the Pickering Firm, I was promoted to director of project development and human resources for the entire company. Things were going well. Shortly after my promotion, I, along with a half dozen other younger and middle aged people, had a chance to buy stock in the firm because they had lost so much money due to their purchase of Intergraph CADD a few years earlier. I will never forget how we used it to design aluminum siding renovations of brick buildings for the Huntsville Division Corps of Engineers ($100 hammers, anyone?). I jumped at the chance, even though I had no idea about whether it would be a good investment or not. I was only 26, and if I were an owner, I would not only get a better company car, but my typing would get done a lot faster by the typing pool.

That’s about the time I started getting calls from my old client and friend, Russell. Carter & Burgess was experiencing tremendous staff turnover. In 1983-1984, their turnover rate was a staggering 43.8 percent! While they had a personnel manager there by the name of Ken Pusey, he was overwhelmed. According to an ACEC peer review that they had gone through, they needed someone in charge of what was starting to be called “human resources management.”

Every month or so I would get a call from Russell. He kept saying they really needed someone like me and they wanted to fly me to Fort Worth to talk to me. And every month, I told him things were going well, and that while I appreciated their interest, I just couldn’t do it.

Needless to say, at some point, after one of Russell’s calls, I finally said “yes.” I don’t know if I had had a bad day or what prompted me to acquiesce, but I did. They sent me a plane ticket and I flew to Fort Worth and met with their board of directors. Some time after, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I said “yes.” I took the job and we moved to Fort Worth.

My point of this story is this: Had Russell Laird not decided in his mind that I was the guy they needed to hire and then kept at me over months and months, there is no way I would’ve even talked to Carter & Burgess, much less accepted an offer from them and moved to a new city. I was an owner in the company I worked for. We had a newer, five-bedroom, two-story colonial in a nice neighborhood with a community pool. My company car was a new Nissan Maxima. My then-wife had a good job working as a psychologist for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. There was no reason to make a change. Yet I did.

This was a lesson I never forgot. Later in my career, there were people I wanted to hire who I talked to for as long as five years before convincing them to come to work with me. Persistence pays off. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.